Adam Had Four Sons (January 1/04)
Adam Had Four Sons is essentially the film equivalent of Melrose Place; it's a trashy guilty pleasure designed solely to entertain (high art this is not). And though the film doesn't exactly contain any great shakes in terms of acting or directing, the high sleaze quotient ensures that Adam Had Four Sons remains engrossing enough to warrant a recommendation.
Adam Stoddard (Warner Baxter) has everything a man could want - a successful business, a loving wife, and four loyal sons. After hiring Emilie (Ingrid Bergman), a governess, to watch over his kids, things begin to take a dark turn. His wife dies, followed by the loss of his business, leaving Adam with no choice but to send three of his boys to school overseas (his youngest moves into a small apartment with him in Brooklyn). Years later, Adam's financial situation has improved and his kids (now grown up) have all enlisted in the army. More hard times are soon to follow, though, when one of his sons returns home with a bride named Hester (Susan Hayward) whose motivations are muddy (at best).
Adam Had Four Sons is typically melodramatic, though the film often veers into unexpectedly tawdry territory. Hester's relationship with Emilie is a perfect example of this, as the two are practically on the verge of a Dynasty-esque cat fight the first time their alone together. Hester immediately confronts Emilie and accuses her of having less than pure intentions for hanging around long after the kids need taking care of, with Hayward in full Heather Locklear mode (she would've made a perfect addition to the Melrose Place cast).
Aside from the various twists and turns, Adam Had Four Sons contains a number of genuinely compelling characters - starting with Adam himself. As played by Baxter, Adam becomes more than just a stereotypically stiff patriarch; it's clear that he loves his sons and even when he suspects one of them of having an affair with Emilie, he is outwardly accepting of their relationship. Bergman is just as effective as Emilie, her angelic nature a nice counterpart to Hayward's vicious Hester.
Adam Had Four Sons proves to be surprisingly enjoyable fare, primarily because of the many unforeseen plot developments. Though it's not exactly the most memorable classic film, it's certainly one of the more entertaining.